Legal action taken by a district council in East Sussex, on environmental grounds, could have far-reaching consequences in relation to desperately needed housebuilding projects up and down the country.
Commercial Property Partner Mark Appleton writes in The Planner this month detailing efforts by Wealden District Council to limit house-building around the Ashdown Forest, using a study on air quality related to increased traffic movements.
The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges has previously stated that traffic increases along sensitive sections of road below 1,000 annual average daily traffic movements do not need to be taken into consideration.
As the joint core strategy in relation to Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation anticipated increases in traffic below 1,000 AADT (annual average daily traffic) along the roads adjacent to the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), it was thought these could be ignored. However, WDC has argued otherwise.
WDC issued a release on 7 March 2017 confirming that taking into account existing traffic and development commitments that are in place there is already an unacceptable level of nitrogen deposits in areas close to forest roads. The district council will not accept planning applications and will not grant any new planning consents that could affect the SAC.The exclusion zone could be up to 25 km.
Developments will only be permitted when they can prove that they will not damage the SAC any further. Only some types of development are exempt, such as home extensions, local shops and some brownfield land. Housing quotas cannot be met on this basis.
Because there are 658 designated SACs across the UK. The WDC case could be used by other local authorities or local action or environmental groups to prevent development. Indeed, the case has already been referred to in the planning inspector’s observations on Leeds City Council’s Sites Allocation Plan.
There is a danger that a legal precedent has been set for the way potential increases in traffic movements caused by building new homes are aggregated over wide areas and deemed detrimental to SACs.
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